In this Spotlight feature, we offer some top tips on how to beat social anxiety.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) indicate that about adults in the United States experience a form of anxiety each year.
Of these, around have social anxiety, which manifests as an intense fear of being judged or rejected by others in a social context.
"It's like...a very, very heavy umbrella closing around my head."
"An intense fear of being in a situation where I don't know anyone. Worried about judgment from others; for example, I worry that people might view me as standoffish."
"It makes me feel like I don't want to go out and talk to anyone. I would always rather stay at home and curl up on the sofa, or bury myself in jobs around the house to distract myself from any social demands."
This is how three people that Medical News Today spoke with described their own experiences of social anxiety.
For some people, dealing with social anxiety means avoiding a variety of social events, including those that would typically be a source of fun and joy, such as parties, or graduation ceremonies.
Social anxiety can lead to isolation and reduced confidence. As someone told us:
"[Social anxiety] makes me feel as if I am the only one suffering in that way, and everyone else is just fine with going out and having a good time together. It makes me feel that no one likes me, so why would they want to talk to me? When they do talk to me, I always feel they are trying to find an excuse to get away and go and talk to someone else."
1. Avoid negative coping strategies
The negative emotional and mental states associated with social anxiety can lead to physiological symptoms that worsen a person's anxiety and lead to further isolation.
It may be tempting to drink to feel more at ease, but alcohol can actually increase anxiety.
One person told us that his social anxiety used to lead not just to "'internal' feelings [that] include a shakiness in my voice, [and] brain fog that stops me from thinking straight," but also to "[p]hysical feelings [that] include an upset stomach, loss of appetite, sweaty hands, muscle stiffness."
When finding themselves in an unavoidable social situation — such as an office event — many people try to blunt the symptoms of their social anxiety through negative coping strategies, particularly drinking alcohol.
And while the first glass or two of wine may indeed seem like the best antidote against compulsive worry, drinking too much will likely end up making anxiety worse.
has shown that heavy drinking eventually circles back to bad moods, heightened anxiety, and other related symptoms, such as disrupted sleep patterns.
According to the ADAA, of individuals with social anxiety also have alcohol use disorder. have shown that these findings apply to adults and adolescents with social anxiety.
So one top tip when it comes to keeping social anxiety in check and avoiding a potential worsening of symptoms is to avoid drinking too much, even if the initial feeling of relaxation that alcohol can provide seems attractive.
A reader who has successfully kept the symptoms of social anxiety in check told us that besides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication, leading a healthy lifestyle — including avoiding alcohol — has helped.
"I [...] know [that] if I do the following things, the anxiety is better: exercise regularly, eat well, don't drink too much alcohol, do things I enjoy," he said.
2. Face your fears, don't hide from them
Another go-to for people who experience social anxiety is to avoid engaging in social situations by checking social media or doing other activities on their smartphones.
Hiding behind your smartphone to avoid social interaction could do more harm than good.
"I used to wallow in [my social anxiety] and just sort of stand there and pretend to play on my phone," someone else told us.
A looked at data on 367 young adult participants who were smartphone users. It found "significant positive correlations" between excessive smartphone use and the presence of social anxiety.
found that of 182 young adult smartphone users, those who admitted to being addicted to technology also displayed potential markers of social anxiety, including isolation and low self-esteem.
"Our smartphones have turned into a tool that provides short, quick, immediate satisfaction, which is very triggering," one of the study authors, Isaac Vaghefi, who is an assistant professor of management information systems at Binghamton University-State University of New York.
Moreover, hiding behind a smartphone will only avoid addressing the problem of social anxiety. Although it may seem counterintuitive and even scary at first, it is far better to face social anxiety face-on, through gradual exposure to increasingly complex social situations.
One key therapeutic approach in the treatment of social anxiety calls for intentional . According to researchers, "the goal of the social mishap exposures is to purposely violate the [person's] perceived social norms and standards to break the self-reinforcing cycle of fearful anticipation and subsequent use of avoidance strategies."